CHINA

Swindled investors threaten mass suicide in China

A citizen photographed a dramatic sight in Shuozhou city on Sunday morning: a dozen people stood on the roof of a six-story government building, threatening to jump to their deaths if they did not obtain justice. 

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Investors who fell prey to a scam on a rooftop from which they threatened to jump. Photo published on Weibo

A citizen photographed a dramatic sight in Shuozhou city on Sunday morning: a dozen people standing on the roof of a six-storey government building, threatening to jump to their deaths if they did not obtain justice.

Firefighters arrive to try to dissuade twelve people from jumping off the roof of a government building. Photo published on Weibo

The desperate twelve turned out to be investors who had been scammed by the boss of a venture capital firm called Shanxi Heli, who recently ran off with all their money. The reason they climbed up to the top of Shuozhou’s Development and Reform Commission office building is because they believed the boss, a man named Ma Aibin, to be a civil servant who worked for the commission. The commission, however, said that he was not on their payroll, but that he was a temporary worker who was employed by an affiliate office, the office for cement.

Police and firefighters on the scene. Photo published on Weibo

Shanxi Heli was registered in 2011, and invested in a wide array of goods, including building materials and white wine. A local interviewed by Chinese media, who said two of his relatives invested in Ma’s company, described a pyramid scheme: “Some investors were deluded into becoming salesman and hooking in more people, in particular their relatives. Those who did well were promised trips to Hong Kong.”

Commenters on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, didn’t necessarily sympathise with those who threatened suicide:

“I understand they’re in a bad mood, but is jumping off a building really going to help?”

“Since it is called investment, it is risky. When they earn the money, they cram it into their purses; when they lose, they ask the government for money. If I get hungry in the future, will I also go to the government and threaten to jump off the building?”

Some local witnesses told local media that it didn’t look like the distraught investors really intended to jump. Whatever the reality of the situation, their actions got the attention of the authorities. The police have arrested three of Shanxi Heli’s employees for illegal fundraising, and have issued an arrest warrant for Ma, who is still on the run. They are offering a 500 yuan (about 67 euros) reward to whoever helps find him. This amount was judged insulting by many commenters on Weibo:

“500 yuan reward? That’s so cheap, it’s ridiculous.”

“The fugitive must be disappointed after seeing the warrant: ‘I am only worth 500 yuan!’”

This is not the first time a group has threatened suicide to attract the Chinese authorities’ attention. Over the past few years, dozens of factory workers have threatened to jump off rooftops in several separate labour disputes with electronics giant Foxconn.

Close-up of the swindled investors up on the rooftop from which they threatened to jump. Photo published on Weibo